Eating foods that are high in essential fatty acids (EFAs) and other healthy fatty acids can help to prevent conditions such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, vision problems, and birth defects.
Fatty acids are basic units of fat molecules arranged as chains of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Fats are mixtures of about 16 different fatty acids that are categorized by their structure. Each fatty acid has its own unique physiological effect in the body.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fatlike substance that is found in foods of animal origin in every body cell. It is essential for cell building. Blood (serum) cholesterol travels in the bloodstream. It is manufactured by the body and is also absorbed from some of the foods we eat. Dietary cholesterol is found only in foods of animal origin. It is never in foods from plant sources, even if they contain fat.
There are two types of blood cholesterols: “good” cholesterol (HDL blood cholesterol) and “bad” cholesterol (LDL blood cholesterol). Good cholesterol carries cholesterol away from body cells to the liver so it can be broken down and excreted as waste. Bad cholesterol circulates to body cells and carries cholesterol where it can be used. Bad cholesterol is capable of forming deposits on artery and other blood vessel walls. Both types of blood cholesterols are manufactured in the liver.
Monounsaturated Fatty Acids lower LDL blood cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) and raise HDL blood cholesterol (“good” cholesterol). Oils that are high in monosaturated fatty acids are olive, canola, and nut oils.
Polysaturated Fatty Acids lower total blood cholesterol (both LDL and HDL cholesterol levels). Polyunsaturated fatty acids can be found mostly in corn, safflower, soybean, sesame, and sunflower seed oils. These fatty acids are also found in seafood.
Saturated Fatty Acids trigger the liver to make more total and bad cholesterol (LDL). They are contained mainly in animal-based foods such as meat, poultry, butter, whole milk, and whole milk products. They are also found in tropical oils. For many years health professionals believed that saturated fats were the cause of heart disease. In recent years studies have been conducted in regions where highly saturated fats such as coconut oil and palm oil are consumed. In most of those regions, meat and dairy are also regularly consumed. The researchers found that in those populations, heart disease is very rare. They discovered that the main cause of heart disease is actually excessive consumption of trans fats and refined carbohydrates such as processed flour and sugars instead of vegetables, legumes, whole grains and fruits.
Trans Fatty Acids are formed during the process of hydrogenation. The hydrogenated fats are actually unsaturated fats which have been processed to make them stable and solid at room temperature. Hydrogenated fats were created for the purpose of extending shelf life to packaged foods and they also have a higher melting point. They are found in margarine, shortening, and many packaged foods such as crackers and cookies. Trans fats raise blood cholesterol levels. Trans fats are not essential and they do not promote good health. They increase the risk of coronary heart disease by raising bad cholesterol levels and lowering good cholesterol levels. Health authorities and organizations worldwide recommend that consumption of trans fat be reduced to trace amounts.
Essential Fatty Acids: (Omega-3 and Omega-6)- Omega-3 Fatty Acids are polyunsaturated. They are essential fatty acids that can only be obtained from the foods that we eat. Eating foods that are high in Omega-3 fatty acids can help to reduce blood clotting in the arteries and also help to prevent hardening of the arteries. Omega-3 fatty acids play a major role in the prevention of several conditions such as cancer, heart disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. They are essential for proper immune function and brain health. Foods that are high in Omega-3 fatty acids are fatty fish such as salmon, albacore tuna, and mackerel. Omega-3 fatty acids are also found in nuts, canola, and flaxseed oils.
– Omega-6 Fatty Acids are also essential fatty acids that can only be obtained from the foods that we eat. They may offer some protection against heart disease, but in excess consumption they actually create adverse effects. Many health experts suggest that excess consumption of Omega-6 fatty acids can increase the risk of developing illnesses such as prostate cancer, breast cancer, arthritis, osteoporosis, depression, and obesity. Excess of consumption of Omega-6 fatty acids interferes with the health benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids. The recommended ratio of consumption for Omega-3 fatty acids and Omega-6 fatty acids is 4-to-1.
Lauric Acid is the main acid in coconut oil and in palm kernel oil. It’s also found in smaller quantities in breast milk, cow’s milk, and goat’s milk. Lauric acid contains antimicrobial properties and helps to raise metabolism.
Oleic Acid is the main acid in olive oil. It also makes up 15-20% of grape seed oil. Oleic acid may hinder the progression of Adrenoleukodystrophy, a fatal disease that affects the brain and adrenal glands. It may also help to boost memory. Oleic acid may be responsible for the hypotensive (blood pressure reducing) effects of olive oil.
Symptoms of essential fatty acid deficiency include a dry scaly rash, decreased growth in infants and children, increased susceptibility to infection, and poor wound healing.
Healthy fats should be consumed in moderation. Consuming large amounts of healthy fats can cause excessive weight gain and other adverse side effects. Essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6) are necessary for the proper functioning of the body. Excess consumption of omega-6 fatty acids will cause adverse side effects and increase the risk of developing illnesses. Heath organizations recommend consuming essential fatty acids at a ratio of (omega-3 to omega-6) 4-to-1.
– Omega 3 Fatty Acids – salmon, tuna, sardines, flax seeds, chia seeds, and walnuts.
– Omega 6 Fatty Acids – meat, dairy, walnuts, flax seed oil, hemp seed oil, pumpkinseed oil, sesame seed oil, and evening primrose oil.
– Lauric Acid – coconuts, coconut oil, palm kernel oil
– Oleic Acid – olive oil and grapeseed oil.